hillcountry hospitality

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On this side of the border — due to comparative affluence, population dynamics, or the vagaries of history — the roads are paved, and there is a relative dearth of trails tempting me with the unknown. The hills are just as steep and (at lower elevations) covered with strangely mown looking tea bushes, here in the region the British called (quite rightly) the hill country. I’m wandering in Sikim (and Darjeeling): the northernmost bit of India which is sandwiched between Tibet, Bhutan, and Nepal. Not surprisingly it is more culturally related to these neighbors, than to mainland India — they even speak Nepali here — the main difference being, the British. They conquered this bit of the himalaya despite resistance by the famous gorka fighters, whereas in what we call nepal today, the gorka managed to keep the mountains to themselves.

Approximately 100 years of british dominion doesn’t seem like much in the face of thousands of years and cultural/religious ties — which isn’t to imply that Sikkim is not its own place, with a long history of conflict with its neighbors — and this chunk of the himalayan foothills is very much a part of the tibetan plateau cultural/geographic region. Asiatic features, buddhist monasteries, precipitous mountains and all. But with a strong venier of British influence (shallow though it may be). Most obvious to my eye at least are the (crumbling) architectural monuments to this regions time as a ‘hill station’ in the days of the British Raj. The major towns especially, such as Darjeeling and Gangtok are dotted with ornate ‘victorian’ structures ranging in size from bungalows to palaces, and marble clad public edifices. In the more rural areas there are clusters of such buildings as well — still serving as the nerve centers of vast tea estates. Continue reading…

Darjeeling Himalayan Railway

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official World Heritage Site
Narrow-Gauge Steam-Train
with perhaps. the worlds only Z reversals, to climb the Himalayan steepness….
and I’ve been following it to the former British Raj Hill station of Darjeeling

Christ mass in Buddhidada

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Pushing my bike in the Himalaya

 

My sense of time/chronology has never been particularly good or accurate.  Especially when traveling, l rarely have any idea what day of the week, month, or sometimes even year it is.  So while l was aware it was winter, it’s not very surprising l had no sense of when the big winter holydays were.  It happened that l was wandering the street (there is only one, but it is long) of Sallerie looking for denatured alcohol (also known as rubbing alcohol, methylated spirits, and in latin america simply as alchol (usually not denatured)) to fuel my (homemade) stove on december 25th, when l was alerted to that fact by a hindu shopkeeper’s daughter (complete with thilkia or bhindi on her forehead) who wished me a “happy christmas.”  I smiled and wished her a merry one, before doing a sort of mental double take, and wondering if it was indeed christmas day.

 

My pocket computer concurred, and l was disappointed to realize that being 12 hours off of california time, l had missed my opportunity to phone the family christmas gathering.  So l sent a round of emails and made my way back to my hotel (the town was dry of denatured alcohol) where l  was almost immediately befriended by a group of well-to-do Nepalis, who were three sheets to the wind, drinking gin and hot water.  It turned out that they were doctors at the mission hospital in nearby Okaldunga and were on some sort of christmas holiday vacation (due to the christian nature of their employer).  They were educated (which here also means english speaking) intelligent (drunk) and wanted to talk about religion.  So l spent my christmass drinking (terrible) gin in hot water (which didn’t improve the flavor) and talking about religion, and tolerance, and such until the wee hours of what turned out to christmas eve on the other side of the planet.

 

I knew that were about 12hrs apart, but my concern with/sense of time is such that l neglected to consider, how that affected the date. So when the internet started working around midday, l received a flurry of messages, informing me that ‘l was living in the future’ and today was christmass in california.  Naturally timing was such that l still missed the family gathering, but managed to call and talk to a large percentage of my family — two christmases are better than one anyway. I bought some diesel fuel (for my stove — and a sardine can to use if that worked better) and peanut butter — and rode out of town, pleasantly surprised to find that the first bit was a road (or at least the sort of jeep track that qualifies as a road around here) which turned into a trail when it reached a ridge, both of which were totally rideable.

Continue reading…

Tronald (his are better)

It took a whole day, and lots of script-kiddie pseudo hacking, but l managed to recover most of the photos off my corrupted memory card — here are some in honor of Anjoronmo one of the people whose photos inspire me to trythis whole picture taking thing

 

trekking towards mt. Everest

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many thanks to matt for all the lovely photos